SOCIAL welfare payments will be cut by 4.1%, affecting everyone under pensionable age and raising fears that thousands of younger jobseekers will now flee the country.
Budget 2010 outlined savings of €760 million on social welfare, but interest groups and the opposition said the young, poor and vulnerable would be left counting the cost of yesterday’s decisions.
Finance Minister Brian Lenihan said the cost of living fell by 6.5% in the past 12 months, compared to the new 4.1% reduction in social welfare. That will mean dole payments will fall by up to €8.30 a week for current recipients.
Jobseekers allowance and supplementary welfare allowance rates for new claimants mean those aged 20 and 21 will receive €100 a week unless they are in full-time training and education, while those aged 22 to 24 will receive €150 a week, again unless in education or training.
Minister for Social and Family Affairs Mary Hanafin said these changes were to encourage young people to get into training and education and then back into the labour force. But unions and interest groups slammed the move.
President of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and general president of SIPTU Jack O’Connor said the move was “sheer cynicism” and added: “This is clearly designed to encourage our young people to leave the country.”
Mandate trade union general secretary John Douglas said the range of social welfare cuts targeted low-income families and young people in particular.
“The fact of the matter is, there are very few opportunities of employment for these people, and in fact, people with little or no experience generally find it harder to find employment,” he said.
The National Youth Council of Ireland said in reality, there was an insufficient number of training places and that the reductions were “a misguided and short-sighted policy”.
Social welfare cuts also affect those on disability payments. Inclusion Ireland chief executive Deirdre Carroll claiming: “This leaves people with an intellectual disability and autism with barely pittance to spend.”
The Rehab Group also expressed concern about the significant cut in disability allowance of €8.30 per week.
Focus Ireland chief executive Joyce Loughnan said the social housing and supports budget was being cut by a massive 27%, which she said was a “hammer blow” to the marginalised in society.
The 4.1% social welfare cut would push more people towards homelessness, she warned, stating that the move was “a betrayal of the Government’s commitment to protect the most vulnerable”.
The chairman of St Vincent de Paul, John Monaghan, said that while some aspects of the budget were not as bad as expected, new measures such as the carbon tax and prescription charge were worrying for poorer people, while families on low pay would be severely hit by the budget.
Ms Hanafin said if social welfare rates were not cut money would have been taken out of services and the public sector. “We have protected the pensioner and we have protected vulnerable children,” she said, adding that current rates were “just not sustainable”.
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